CATEGORIES Action, Comedy, Tribeca, Warner Brothers, Theatrical Reviews, Family Films, Comic/Superhero/Geek, Remakes and Sequels, Reviews, Tribeca Film Festival, Cinematical
I'm very pleased that my Cinematical colleague James Rocchi both enjoyed Speed Racer and published his review before mine, and here's why: I couldn't wait for the damn thing to end. This garish, aimless film wore out its welcome (and its crayon box) after about 25 minutes, but the cinematic eyesore just kept lumbering on for two full hours. I know it's tough to keep kids still in a movie theater even when they like the movie they're watching, so I can only imagine what parents will be dealing with as Speed Racer's merciless stretches of blah-blah-blah hit the screen. Aside from three or four mega-flashy racing sequences, Speed Racer feels like the pilot episode of a Fox TV series called The Generic Family from Plastic World.
A young man named "Speed Racer" grows up to become a hot-shot car racer (imagine that), but when he refuses to sign with an evil tycoon, it kick-starts a third-act conflict that can only be solved by ... car racing! There's the whole of your plot in a nutshell, but I've left out the resoundingly clumsy flashback structure, the nominally interesting but ultimately pointless side characters, and several absurdly "emotional" moments that might have made an impact if they didn't occur on sets made entirely of bright pink styrofoam and glitter. There's also an allegedly mysterious character called Racer X, a button-cute and entirely superfluous girlfriend character, and (wedged in clumsily whenever things get dull) a mischievous little kid and his monkey sidekick.
Or you could just go see Iron Man again.
I've seen my share of the old Speed Racer cartoon, and with all due respect to its loyal fans, there's barely enough there to fill a cartoon, let alone an overlong and headache-inducing movie version. It's hard to even imagine what the directors saw in this material that excited them so much -- except maybe they just needed a good gig and Warner Bros. was itching for a summertime tentpole with some degree of "name recognition value." Aside from the hyper-kinetic (and, yes, occasionally nifty) racing stuff and the over-the-top production design, the movie is about as inert as movies come. Frankly I'm a little bit stunned that this thing came from the same guys who directed Bound and The Matrix. I was hoping for something a little like Spy Kids but what I got was something a lot like Spy Kids 3 (or, more specifically / painfully, Speed Racer is a lot like Sharkboy and Lavagirl), which means you might want to load up on aspirin before hitting the box office.
The normally excellent Emile Hirsch is swallowed up by the flick's real star (the colors!) and he ends up delivering a hero that's just about thirty degrees too bland for my tastes. The always reliable John Goodman and Susan Sarandon exist to add a small dash of class to the proceedings, but not even they can make a dent in the omnipresent strobe lights and flashy bits. Christina Ricci contributes a bit of pluck and zing, but she also vanishes from the flick for long stretches at a time. But ultimately Speed Racer wants to be a two-hour music video, so it's not like the actors had much of a chance, anyway. (To be fair, the movie does boast an excellent Michael Giacchino score, so there's something I liked.)
It's as if fraternal filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski saved all the extra color that they didn't need on the Matrix trilogy, and then simply found a cinematic palette on which to ooze it. If you've ever wondered what it feels like to live trapped inside a pinball machine, this is the movie for you. Speed Racer looks like a cross between Barry Levinson's Toys, Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, and Tim Burton on 47 hits of LSD -- and while that sort of concoction certainly sounds appealing, in actuality it gets real old real fast. And without any sort of remotely human components, the movie feels like a two-hour video game in which none of the buttons allow you to skip over the woeful "story parts." Anyone who has ever watched someone else play Gran Turismo for two straight hours will be familiar with the experience of Speed Racer. It's either a feature-length racing game or an elementary school version of Natural Born Killers. (And just try to keep up with the horribly annoying "horizontal wipe" transitions. They start out cute and then they're just grating.)
Bottom Line: I don't really know who this movie was made for. Car nuts (the sort of gearheads who love the Fast and the Furious movies JUST because of the cool cars) will be put off by the flick's futuristic, unrealistic, and astronomically cartoonish approach to cars and racing; younger kids will perk up a few times but will probably be bored stiff for long stretches; and those who simply have a nostalgic fondness for the original Speed Racer series will probably have had enough of the flat characters and choppy editing by the middle of Act II. I'm all for mindless excitement, over-exuberant production design, and ultra-stylized retro-silliness, but Speed Racer is long when it should be tight, dry when it should be juicy, and considerably more obsessed with eye-popping visuals and florid camera tricks than it is in humor, heart, or the thrill of the race.
It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the entire movie was paid for by the makers of Tylenol.